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A blog reader recently asked me to write more about undereating and the fear of becoming overweight. There are many similarities between undereaters and overeaters—using food as an emotional distraction or crutch, allowing weight to determine self-worth, dependence on inadequate life skills, and disconnection from appetite signals. However, there are also differences.
Many undereaters believe they need to be in perfect control around food 24/7and obsess about it and their weight. I know, I used to be one myself. These thoughts fill up your head and dictate your life. You can’t go here or there because there might be edible temptation, food is the hollow center of your life, and the accursed enemy which must be battled daily. Societal reinforcement keeps behavior in place. Unless you’re walking skin and bones, everyone thinks it’s mahvelous how much control over food you have. After all, you are the American ideal, having vanquished your urges and impulses while everyone else keeps giving in. Undereating and weight obsession become what’s called in psychological parlance, ego syntonic, ie, behavior that’s in sync with internal values and causes little or no emotional discomfort (ego dystonic is the opposite—behavior which causes discomfort because it’s out of sync with internal values).
The way out of chronic undereating and overvaluing thinness is the same long, bumpy road overeaters must take to recover from overeating—experiencing enough emotional discomfort to change behavior. Because society minimizes undereating as a problem, chronic restrictors often don’t seek therapy, but it sure helped me when I was in the throes of it. Learning to tolerate emotions is key. My FOOD AND FEELINGS WORKBOOK will help. It’s also useful to talk to friends and family for support. Insist they refrain from making positive or negative comments about your eating or your weight. This is your journey, your body, your life. Spend at least one day a week not counting calories or weighing yourself. Do one day, do two, then three, etc.
Most of all, work on changing your irrational beliefs about needing to be thin and in control around food in order to be happy, successful, or loved. Reframe beliefs about fat hatred and what you fear will happen if you gain weight. This process takes a long time—many months to a few years. Find a therapist or join a support group for people with eating problems. Read books on “normal” eating and get support from message boards like http://groups.yahoo.com/group/dietsurvivors and http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings.
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